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Returning to Work After Weight Loss Surgery

A common question that patients considering bariatric surgery ask is about the timeline for return to work after their procedure. Planning time off from work is an ordeal for many, so we wanted to offer some insight to help make that process slightly easier. While every patient is different and procedures vary, the recover from laparoscopic surgery is largely the same. Bariatric surgery is unique in the fact that you will be on an adjusted post-op diet and then be transitioning through diet phases in the days and weeks after surgery. Read on below on what you should plan for when it comes to recovery and returning to work:

Prioritize Your Immediate Recovery

At a minimum, you will likely out for a few days. Physically and mentally, your body needs to recover from the effects of anesthesia, and you should take time for any pain medication to leave your system as well. During this time, you will be unable to drive or operate other heavy machinery. You also don’t want to undertake any major responsibility or make big decisions. Typically, 48 hours after your last dose of any pain medication is an appropriate time frame for your body to no longer be considered “under the influence.” When it comes to driving, you also need to consider that your abdomen will be sore making it more difficult to steer or slam on the breaks.

Give Yourself Time to Adjust

As a bariatric patient, you will be on a clear liquid diet for the first 48 hours after surgery. Following that initial post-op period, you should transition to what we call the pureed diet. Patients are tasked with meeting both hydration and protein goals during this time, all while only taking in small amounts at a time. Consider how and if your work life can be adjusted around your modified eating and drinking schedule. This phase lasts two weeks, followed by two weeks of a soft diet. As you reintroduce foods with more texture, some patients find it difficult to adapt. It is important to take this slowly and contact your care team if you are struggling. Some patients prefer to stay out of work while they adjust to a full diet and feel their energy is up, while others will navigate this while back at work.

Restricted Lifting and Activity

Lifting will also be restricted immediately following surgery. Although the risks are lower with minimally invasive surgical techniques, you still have surgical incisions that require gentle care. Typically, patients are instructed not to lift over 15 Lbs. for at least 6 weeks following surgery. You might be surprised how many things weigh over ten pounds around the office or your home. Gentle activity like walking is encouraged soon after surgery to decrease the risk of blood clots and help your body to heal, but more vigorous activities will be limited until your surgeon clears you. Some patients feel fairly energetic soon after surgery, but others find themselves low energy due to a limited diet and adjusting. If your work is very active or requires lifting, you may have difficulty performing your duties shortly after surgery.

Plan for the Unknown

Unless you have undergone a similar surgery before, you will likely be unsure how you will respond to recovery. It can be helpful if someone at work is aware of your situation. If you feel comfortable, speak with Human Resources or Manager about any accommodations that can be made or if taking leave would be a more appropriate option. While you may feel reluctant to share about your decision to have weight loss surgery, having someone who is aware of the limitations and adjustments can mean you have an advocate to help you recover in the healthiest environment you can.

If you choose to take FMLA time or your work requires some documentation from your surgeon for leave or accommodations to be made, please contact our team to discuss what’s needed. We will need your authorization to discuss your healthcare treatment with anyone else.

Most importantly, always follow your post-op diet and exercise program to ensure that your recovery is as speedy and safe as possible. The new healthier you will also likely be more productive at work so prioritize your recovery for the long-term benefit.